by Kristy Como Armand
Do you dread going to work in the morning, not because of the work, but because you’re not sure you can deal with your boss one more day?
Bad bosses – whether bullies, control freaks, micro-managers or bumbling idiots – can be found in all organizations. In fact, they are among the favorite stereotypical characters. There’s publishing dictator Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada and clueless regional office director Michael Scott in The Office, and the full-length movie Horrible Bosses, just to name a few.
Bad bosses may be entertaining in small doses, but when you have to face a real one every working day, it’s not very amusing. A bad boss can turn even a good working environment into an uncomfortable and unhappy workplace. Research shows that many employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses, with an estimated 57% who leave their jobs doing so because of their supervisor.
“Dealing with a less than effective manager, or just a plain bad boss, is a challenge many employees face,” says Keri Forbess-McCorquodale, MS, LPC-S, LMFT, CEAP, president of Solutions Counseling & EAP. “Difficult supervisors vary in personality from being a little pushy or rude, to being downright abusive. Chances are most workers will deal with one in some capacity at some point in their career.”
According to Forbess-McCorquodale, part of the problem is that a large majority of managers are moved into positions of authority without any training about how to manage people. “They may be skilled in their field but have had no supervisory training.”
As anyone who has tangled with an unprofessional supervisor knows, it’s a very difficult situation to handle. Do you tough it out? Try a mature, heart-to-heart discussion? File a complaint? Quit? “It’s hard to find a more difficult workplace situation than having a boss you don’t get along with, or who treats you unprofessionally,” Forbess-McCorquodale says. “Helping employees with supervisor-related problems is one of the most common, and most complex, workplace conflicts we address. There’s just no easy solution.”
It’s a serious situation because this isn’t just any relationship. “Unlike a cranky spouse or a gossipy friend, your boss controls your livelihood and professional reputation. He or she plays a key role in your financial security and career success,” says Forbess-McCorquodale.
One thing you can do is decide what your limits are and what steps you will take if your tolerance level is exceeded. For example, you may decide you can tolerate your boss taking credit for your work or playing favorites, but will not lie on their behalf, or allow him or her to humiliate you in front of co-workers.
There are other steps you can take that will help you feel like you have more of a handle on the situation. “It’s helpful to remember the only thing you can control is yourself,” says Forbess-McCorquodale. “Focus on yourself and your reaction to the situation. Understand that your supervisor’s behavior is not about you. It’s about them, and you can’t control their behavior.”
Forbess-McCorquodale offers the following strategies to help when trying to successfully manage a difficult boss situation:
Address the issue directly. Be prepared and choose the right time. The right time is not in the middle of a volatile situation or right after an incident. Calmly and rationally discuss the issue – as you perceive it. Talk about yourself and your own feelings, rather than making accusations or criticizing. For example, say “I’m uncomfortable when I’m in the position of having to lie to our clients. How can we avoid this in the future?”
Always have a back-up plan. Before you initiate such a meeting, have a plan in place in case things don’t work out. Your plan may be having a job offer in hand, having your resume up-to-date, or having enough surplus cash to sustain you while you look for another job. Your backup plan gives you the confidence of knowing you can walk away should the discussion deteriorate.
Don’t get emotional. When your boss criticizes you, don’t react out of emotion and become confrontational with them because that just creates more conflict. Instead, use their criticism as a topic for discussion on interests, goals, and problem-solving, and ask them for their advice.
Be professional. Know the difference between not liking your boss and not being professional. You don’t have to consider your boss a friend or even like them as a person, but you do have to remain professional, get the job done and follow their instructions.
Document everything. If you choose to stay with a toxic employer, then document everything. This will become your main ammunition should a complaint ever be filed down the road.
Whatever you do, think about what consequences you are willing to accept before taking action, if any. Every situation is different, and you need to make the right decision for yourself,” says Forbess-McCorquodale. “Your relationship with your boss is like any other in your life and requires work.”